Building “WONDER” into our classrooms. #oneword


Hey boys…”I’m going to write a blog about what students wonder about.  What do you wonder about?”


IMG_0480Connor (12):  “I wonder what the universe is shaped like.  I wonder what dark matter and dark energy are.  I wonder if there are multiple universes.  I wonder about the possibility of keeping wormholes open.  I wonder if extraterrestrials would be advanced. I wonder why so many people are allergic to peanuts.”



IMG_0080Liam (9):  “I wonder if Alexa works for the CIA.  I wonder what it would be like to be in space.  I wonder what Tom Brady’s practice routine is like.  I wonder what the world would be like if junk food was good for you and fruits and vegetables were bad for you.  I wonder if there is such a thing as a 3-hour delay.  I wonder if BOSE headphones spy on you (I heard that on the news).”

Hmmm…I wonder…”How can I have two children who are so different?”

With the beginning of 2018 you may have seen the #oneword hashtag movement.  If you are not familiar with this approach to the year, please check out their video overview or the website  While I haven’t yet decided what my own word will be for me this year, I can’t help but think that the word WONDER would be the one word I’d love for all of our students.

This school year in our district we introduced  modern learning pathways to teachers, encouraging our teachers to take risks as they try out some new practices such as introducing genius hour/20% time, expanding project-based learning opportunities, incorporating design-thinking tasks, or integrating maker-spaces.

One of the core principles that I’ve noticed our teachers expanding is to ask our students what they want to learn about.  This has taken place through activities such as I wonder boards, beginning lessons asking students what they wonder about the topics, or having students identify what they notice and wonder in the learning process.


I was blown away at the start of the year by our kindergarten wonderings.  Check out this I Wonder posters below from a few of our kindergarten friends!

My favorite?  It definitely is the “I wonder how do you become a rockstar?” as I’ve often wondered the same.

Screenshot 2017-09-17 21.24.44IMG_5192


Students in our district have had increased opportunities to notice and wonder, especially in their mathematical thinking. Check out these flipgrid videos as one example where one of our 4th grade teachers asked their students to: Take a video of something you see has the potential to start a mathematical discussion, like a long train passing by, the pattern of the floor tiles in your office, a grocery worker filling up a box of peppers. Keep your eyes open for these “mathe-magical” opportunities to share with us. We will use them in class to notice and wonder!”

A few of the student wonderings in the videos were…

  • We were wondering how many cards would fit on a table?
  • We were wondering how many 1 in. square tiles would fit in a floor tile?
  • I was wondering how many pieces of mandarin you get in a fruit cup compared to a whole mandarin?

In a 5th grade class, they began the year creating an Our Wonders board:

In a 4th grade class, the students were asked to provide what they wondered about an upcoming topic:


These wonderings also are taking place at the high school where recently our AP Biology students were able to research any topics of interest for a potential study they would share at the AP Biology Symposium.  My question to all the students who presented was “Why did you choose this topic?” Their answers ranged from wanting to dive deeper into a topic of interest to a sincere desire to learn more about how to cure diseases that affect people they know.

At our high school we have even gone as far as to have an entire course dedicated for students to pursue their own passions and wonderings in our Generation Think course.

Check out the student websites that have been created on their own passion projects.

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Are you looking for ways to encourage your students’ wonder in 2018?

  1.  The next time you look to begin your class with pre-determined essential questions, ask the students if they can come up with essential questions of their own.
  2. Try a Wonder Week, proposed by author John Spencer, which is  is an “inquiry-based , week-long project, where students ask questions about anything they find interesting.These are those nagging questions they have that they’ve never had a chance to answer in school. Next, they engage in research about that topic before eventually creating a short multimedia presentation. Some students do podcasts (like a CurosityCast) and others choose a blog post or a video. They get to decide on the format.”
  3.  Incorporate into your classroom with a wonder of the day.  Below is an example of some of the most popular wonders.
  4. Bring in an Amazon Echo or Dot into the classroom. Whenever students have a question they are wondering about, you have quick access to find out the answer.
  5. Most importantly, as you know modeling is key as educators, make sure you take some time to share your own wonders with your students and discover the answers together.

If you have incorporated elements of wonder into your classes this year, please share with us in the comment section… I wonder how many people will contribute?

The Nest of Inquiry.

nestIt was a Saturday, this summer,  and I just came into the house and saw my son Connor (11) sitting at the kitchen table with a laptop, a notebook, pencil, and a bird’s nest in the middle of the table.  He was leaning into the computer, his hand furiously writing notes in his notebook, that he didn’t even notice me enter.   I walked over to him and did what any mother would do, I asked him with a flare of incredulousness and loud emphasis, “Connor, what are you doing?  Why is there a bird’s nest in the middle of my kitchen table?”

What happened next has stayed with me since.  He looked up at me and replied in a matter-of-fact tone,  “The nest fell off the vines we took off the side of the house and there were no birds, so don’t worry Mom.  I brought it in here, so I can study it.  I wanted to learn more about it, so I’m researching how bird’s make a nest and trying to find out what kind of birds might have made this.”  What followed was a long conversation where Connor eagerly shared what he learned about the nest, along with his hypothesis based on the materials, and a notebook of lengthy notes of information he found.

Let’s contrast this with another conversation I had with Connor a month later.

“Hi fine2Connor, how was school today? What did you learn?”  Connor’s response, “Oh, it was good.”  I was thrilled with a strong “good” response and inquired further with a little excitement, “Good, that’s great! What was so good about it?  What did you learn? Something new?  Did you do anything fun?”  Connor, gave me a funny look, a roll of the eyes, and said with a tone that only a 6th-grader could master, “It was FINE, Mom.  You know, it is just school. It is always the same.”

Now don’t get me wrong, Connor does like going to school and he does well, and learns a lot.  His teachers have been great, and they work extremely hard to create the best learning environments they know how to.  That’s what we all do, right?  As educators we all work hard every day for our students and always have their best interest in our hearts and minds; however, I keep coming back to that nest.

The image of the nest was still with me when Will Richardson, in his keynote speech in our district, asked us to really take a look at what we know and believe about learning and whether our practices in school reflect those beliefs.   I wondered, what conditions in school would foster the same eager excitement, inquisitiveness, passion, initiative, research, and self-directed learning that I found at my kitchen table in the middle of a hot Saturday afternoon?

What if we created similar learning experiences where:

  • Inquiry and discovery is alive
  • Student voice and choice play a role in what we are learning
  • Learning is grounded in real-life application and problems
  • Learning is messy and non-linear and as one learns, new doors of learning open in the process


and where…

  • Students have the tools and skills to be able to learn how to learn


Therefore, one day when  a nest falls into their lap….learning will be more than fine; it will be exquisite.







Let’s Increase the Volume in Student Voice

Pump up the VolumeAs educators, when asked if we should increase “student voice” in the classroom or schools, our quick response is often “Yes, of course!”  However, in reality, are we really, truly engaging our students in leading our schools, having a say in our curriculum, contributing to our decision-making?  I know we do try.  For example, we have student councils, we ask for student input in surveys, we give choice to students in projects, we ask them to self-reflect and students participate on some committees.  We ask for their feedback, we listen, right?  However, student voice needs to go beyond just listening.

Harvard Researcher Brion-Meisels points out:

 “Listening to young people doesn’t mean unilaterally considering their perspective…It means recognizing that young people have a perspective on the world that adults can’t share, and that their perspective should be welcomed alongside the wisdom that adult perspectives bring” (Giving Students a Voice by Leah Shafer).

 In the past month, I participated in four activities that really solidified my own thinking about student voice.

1. Search Committee

The first was a middle school principal search committee where we had students involved in the interview and recommendation process.  What was amazing about the interview process was that our students truly had a seat at the table.  They brought their own questions as representatives of the student body.  (The best questions on our list came from our students!)  Then, when we had discussions as a committee, we went to our students first and listened.  Their responses were exactly on point and we were thrilled to have them contribute to the conversation, use evidence to support their arguments, and provide a student perspective, such as,  “If she were the principal of my school, I would love coming to school!”

2.  Student Discussion

The second instance was a meeting with student representatives at our high schoolIMG_3602 where they were asked a series of questions about the school such as:

  1. Beyond friends, what do you look forward to at school each day?
  2. If you could change one thing at our school, what would it be?
  3. If you could give one piece of advice to teachers or administrators, what would it be?”

The following discussion could have continued for a lot longer than the time allotted because the students in the room were excited that they had an opportunity to share their thoughts on what they loved about their school and ideas for improvement.  It was an incredibly powerful discourse filled with respect, reasons supported by evidence, and excitement.  It certainly was the highlight of my week!  The students, who were representative of various grades and interests, described the school as welcoming, inviting, and inclusive.  They enthusiastically provided why they loved coming to school and usually it was because of a single enthusiastic teacher who had made learning exciting.  They wanted to have more opportunities for relevant learning opportunities and meaningful homework.  They liked using technology, but only when it fit the purpose of the assignment, rather than fitting the assignment around the technology.

3.  Student Events–  3rd-Grade Tea

IMG_3897Yesterday, I was lucky to participate in a 3rd grade tea that was being held for seniors in the community.  Sitting in the middle of a table of about 11, third graders, it was an opportunity for me to ask them about their school experience. Coming off of the high school discussion recently, I figured I’d stick to some of the same questions.  I asked them: 1.  “What do you like most about coming to school?” 2. “If you could change one thing about school, what would it be?”  3.  “What is your favorite subject?”  The students eagerly shared their love for math (that was the #1 choice around the table) and we had a few who liked reading.   Some wished they had more time for recess, and thought the end of the day would be the best time to do that before leaving for the day.  They said they wished they had more opportunities to learn science, and they shared their favorite books of choice.  They liked their music class and were looking forward to learning to play musical instruments in the future.  They wanted less homework, but admitted they didn’t have too much each night and Lexia was a big hit because they found it to be a fun way to learn.  WOW! That’s A LOT of feedback.

4.  Student Panels

Last month our counselors provided a workshop to other educators on the implementation of Wellness Weeks.  As part of the workshop, the counselors had student representatives speak to the educators about their thoughts about the effectiveness and impact on wellness weeks from a student perspective.  To be expected, the educators in the room were enthralled listening directly from students about their view on the positive impact of these successful practices.  Adding student voice to these panels was highly effective!


3 Steps To Increase Student Voice

If you are looking to take action and  increase student voice, consider some of the following questions:

  1.  Do students have a seat at the table?  

    Think about all the meetings and committees that take place in a school or district and corresponding decision-making.  Every time you have a meeting, ask yourself…what if students were here with us at the table?  In our district, we have student representatives to the School Committee, students on our Spanish Immersion board, students on panel presentations, and students on interview committees.  Despite all of those opportunities, there is definitely room for growth as well.

  2. Are we asking for student input in a consistent way and then following up with implementation?  

    If you are a district that does not use surveys of students regularly, then that is a great way to begin this process.  Surveys are an effective way to gather data, solicit input, and to help inform decisions in a classroom, school, or district.  The key to successful student surveys is that the data is then applied to implement change.  It is even more effective when students are part of this process of analysis and discussion.  Ask yourself, are you sharing the data with the students and are you implementing change based on input?

  3. Do students have input into and the ability to drive their own learning at school?  

    Although we work within a  standards-based system, that does not mean that students can’t have input into their own learning.  There are many ways to increase student voice in learning from input into units, activities, the questions they will answer, or the ways they are assessed.  Check out this resource from Chicago on how to have students co-shape curriculum:  Seven Steps to Students Co-Shaping Curriculum or this article from the organization we use for surveys called K-12 insight:  How to amplify student voice in curriculum discussions.


If you are looking for more resources about how to increase student voice, here are some examples of how it is being done in schools across the world.

In my own research about student voice, I came across a local school to ours that has a Student Voice Community Service Program at their middle school.  What an interesting approach and a way to say at that school–student voice matters.

5 Videos to Watch on Giving Voice to Students

Including Student Voice by Bill Palmer

Student Power by Milton Chen

Next Steps

After reflecting on the above questions, I challenge you to take one step forward in increasing student voice before the end of this school year.  Using the comment feature of this blog, please share out one way that you will try to increase student voice as an educator.